A Japanese man has been fined 9,000 yen ($81) for vicious online comments targeting Hana Kimura, pro-wrestler and star of the once-popular Netflix reality show “Terrace House: Tokyo.” Kimura is widely believed to have taken her own life last year following weeks of abuse from social media trolls.
The case at the time provoked shock in Japan and the government promised to revamp laws governing online abuse, but Tuesday’s verdict struck Kimura’s fans as far too lenient.
Before her death, the 22-year-old described on Twitter the frequent online bullying she experienced and alluded to self-harm. She told followers that she did not want to “be a human anymore.” Strangers would leave messages like: “Die, you’re disgusting, disappear.”
The man, who has not been publicly identified but is reportedly in his 20s and living in the city of Osaka, posted a string of comments targeting the star, declaring she had an “awful personality,” and writing “when will you die?” According to Japanese media, he has apologized to the star’s family.
In “Terrace House: Tokyo,” which started in 2012 and has since been axed, six young people move into a house and are analyzed intensely by studio commentators and viewers as they go about their daily lives without a script.
According to reports, the hate targeting of the star increased after she was involved in an on-screen argument with a roommate during the 2019-2020 series.
Kimura’s mother, Kyoko, has for months called on the network to take some responsibility for its role in her daughter’s death, accusing it of stoking conflict between her daughter and a male co-star. She filed a claim that a human rights violation occurred and requested better aftercare for contestants.
This week, the human rights committee of the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization found that while Fuji TV has “problems in terms of broadcasting ethics,” and had paid insufficient attention to the physical and mental well-being of cast members, it concluded that no human rights violation had taken place, the Japan Times reported.
“I hope that Fuji Television reevaluates how they produce programs and not see people as mere pawns but treat them with care as actual individuals,” Kimura’s mother said in a statement Tuesday, adding that she was disappointed by the verdict.
The network said it took the media watchdog’s decision “seriously,” adding that it would “make efforts to tackle social media related issues.”
In Japan, Kimura’s death shone a spotlight on the issue of cyberbullying, with many social media users demanding change and stricter sentences for those found to be harassing others online.
According to data from Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, around 1,000 complaints were logged regarding online abuse in 2010, compared to now more than 5,000 per year. The ministry said it was committed to helping victims, saying Tuesday that from April it will add more staff to its complaint hotline, which is designed to help victims of cyberbullying.
The unidentified male implicated in the suit failed to appear in court this week. Kimura’s mother continues to seek legal action against him for emotional distress.
The high-pressure world of reality television is not unique to Japan, and there have been high-profile incidents around the world, especially in the frenetic television market of Britain.
There is now a campaign there to cancel the popular reality show “Love Island,” which is linked to at least four suicides. The plot involves young people looking for romance while living inside a luxury villa in Mallorca.
While the show has captivated millions worldwide since it was first broadcast in 2015, with thousands applying to be featured on the show each year, some contestants have struggled to deal with the incessant bullying that seemingly comes with life in the spotlight.
Former contestant Sophie Gradon took her own life in 2018, with her heartbroken boyfriend following shortly after. In 2019, former contestant and British footballer Mike Thalassitis also died by suicide.
In February last year, the show’s host, Caroline Flack, whom many branded “the face of Love Island,” also killed herself in her London home. Before her death, the star was embroiled in a domestic violence case and had been charged with assaulting her partner.
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Hassan reported from London. Inuma reported from Tokyo.
In the United States the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or over chat. In Japan, the Health Ministry website has contacts for people to find support by phone or online.